Perfect Sand Storm
After a rough few days camping and sleeping on dry dead grass, it made it impossible to not slam off our alarms and sleep in until 10am. So facing 133km ahead we were off to a horrible start.
Fortunately it was a cracking morning, sun was shining bright as we cruised along route 66 singing along to Triple J’s hottest 100 from 2012.
It was a fairly flat terrain and our only problem of the day was a dropped sandwich that left me eating alone as I tried to pick out the sand with Pokes laughing his head off at me.
My spirits were lifted with a muesli bar and mixing some Gatorade into my Camel Pack, which is truly one of the most amazing rewards you can get during the second half of the day. It’s probably mental but I feel like I get an extra kick with every sip of the delicious strawberry lemonade flavour Gatorade I taste.
We arrived at San Jon as the sun was setting and checked into the only motel in town. After two quick showers we headed into the local service station for dinner, I suspect you will not be surprised to know that again disaster struck.
On our way to the local service station for dinner we got hit by the biggest sand storm I’ve ever witnessed. It picked up in minutes and left us almost blind from all the sand that blistered our eyes.
We decided to run and as we turned a corner we heard a dog barking, we couldn’t see the dog due to all the sand but the barking started to get louder. After about 30 seconds, I turned and saw it only meters away, I instantly screamed run, even though we already were. I also formed the view that who ever said ‘his bark is worse than his bite’ had not seen this dog.
We picked up the pace, getting more sand in the mouth and eyes than you could imagine. Our sanctuary, petrol station and was in sight but the dog was within striking distance and really wanted blood.
Like all loyal friends in danger, I had put in some big strides and had a few metres on Pokes who was getting harassed by the vicious dog. I managed to both watch and maintain my lead, which seemed to me to the best place to be in the circumstance. Pokes managed to push the dog’s head to the side and make it do a side role as the dog jumped to take a chunk out of his big old behind.
It gave him just enough time to cross the road and run into the light of the service station, where a truck driver yelled and stood in front of the vicious dog, which immediately made the dog timid and tame, making us look like compete girl guides.
Pokes had the usual, as much as possible while waited until the place shut so we could get a lift back to the motel with an old lady to avoid the horrific sand storm and dangerous dog.
We took off early the next day and the wind had died down but was still around, luckily it was blowing from the west most of the day so we dominated around 140km in almost freezing conditions.
Our aim was to make it to Amarillo but we just fell short after finding a little motel about 20km out. We fell asleep before 8pm completely exhausted and had the alarms set for 6am aiming to ride around 140km the next day.
Busy Streets and Tight Tents
Left Albuquerque early and had a plan to get out of the busy city as quick as possible. We saw a route through the city but it was filled with traffic lights and lots of turns, so even though we knew the interstate was off limits for bikes we decided to take it on rather than pussy foot around through the city streets.
I thought we were getting a bit more support than usual with all the beeps coming from passing cars. It wasn’t until we started to get some extended beeps that we realised how the beeps were not for support but more out of anger. I can assure you we felt like we were going like the wind, however that view was not shared by the motoring public of Albuquerque.
We pushed on until we were only 3 exits away from leaving the city … then the police pulled up behind us. They gave us our marching orders (which seems odd as we were on a bike) and we took the next exit and continued to head east.
We had a great day on the bike, limited whinging from Pokes due to my usual annoyance towards him was pretty low. So after dominating around 110km we pulled in at a small camp ground for the night.
MacDonald’s was the only place near by serving food, so we had a couple of 1$ McChicken burgers and hit the tent for a horrible night of almost sleep.
We awoke with the tent completely flat and over us, a small layer of ice had formed and any small movement inside the flat tent made the ice crack and fall. It was impossible, it was like we were lying in a large flat, wet nylon sandwich; we got soaked as we struggled our way out. Fellow campers leaving their amazing lavish RV’s sat there and watched in amazement as we yelled at each other laughing while we tried to put on every dry piece of clothing we owned.
We left yet another town with people laughing at us but we were happy knowing we were brightening some older travellers day. The weather was perfect, the sun was out and we had a small tail wind.
We only had a few breaks before reaching Santa Rosa and a very rare uneventful day. We were off to bed early because we still had around 350 miles (560km) until we hit Oklahoma City before the weekend only 4 days away.
The Ups and Downs of New Mexico
Late start to the day as we got held up in Denny’s hoping for a weather change, then we decided to take challenge number 4 from Razzle Rawle’s list- riding through Walmart on our tandem bike. Which backfired big time, we got stopped just after the entry by security, we didn’t even know there was such a thing as Walmart security.
So we turned to walk out of the giant shop with all the locals watching, some smiling, some shaking their heads and others laughing at us.
After walking out with red faces and pride well and truly gone, we jumped on the bike quick smart and headed for the old route 66.
The day hadn’t gone to plan so far, with the late start and embarrassing attempt at the Walmat isle ride but we were optimistic and excited to get into Albuquerque for a Friday night and hopefully be able to have a few waters in a local bar.
So it turned out, there would be no chance of us making it to a local bar. The ride was filled with slopes but each time we climbed a slope, it seemed to plateau out then minutes later we would be climbing once more.
We did get one amazing hill to go down, every corner was perfectly raised and angled so we didn’t need to break and would leave the corner faster than we entered. After the best minute of riding we had have all trip, we came to a gentle stop at the bottom and agreed to walk back up and film the brief ride using the GoPro camera.
The 10-minute ride up the hill was a killer especially when you felt so awkward burning so much energy travelling west and going up a hill.
The camera was set, Pokes pressed record and off we went, sailing over the hot road as our rubber wheels gripped effortlessly making us feel like formula 1 drivers once more.
We didn’t bother to stop again, so Pokes pressed stop record and turned it off as we rode. We continued on riding as the sun was setting, with one more challenge ahead.
We were 18 miles (30km) off Albuquerque, there was a huge hill ahead but at the base was a big Indian Casino and all sorts of fast food joints. So we pulled in for a quick bite and punt, I think I was delusional from the long ride and lack of water, I remember thinking I’ll win us heaps of cash and we can stay in the pent house there for the night and not have to tackle the hill until tomorrow morning.
I enjoyed some Black Jack for over an hour while Pokes hung off my shoulder in his bike shorts, like he was my trophy boyfriend, yelling and screaming as I took the Route 66 Casino for all it’s worth. I was walking tall, cracking jokes, tipping over the top for no reason and telling Pokes I would shout our accommodation for the weekend.
As Pokes suggested I walk away with the cash, it made me want to stay and play even more. For that 15-minute period when I lost it all, I felt like I had a serious gambling problem. I physically couldn’t leave the table, it might have been the fact I had ridden over a 100km and immediately started having a few beers. So my legs were incapable of walking but the fact is, I wouldn’t let myself leave and the consequence was dire.
I had lost all my winnings of around a thousand bucks and the original outlay of $100, which for us Plebs travelling across the country is a lot of money.
To Pokes credit he didn’t laugh at me, or give me any grief. I think he was just as disappointed as me. His free accommodation for the weekend was now gone and he had to put up with a cranky Con for the rest of day because we couldn’t afford to stay in a lavish suite at the stupid route 66 Indian Casino anymore.
So with a few free bud lights under the belt we took off the final leg of the day in search of Albuquerque. It was completely dark and quite cold but we pushed on climbing a hill that was 8 miles long. It wasn’t overly steep but the length was amazing and disheartening.
We made it to the top with no break and unanimously decided we needed a break before we continue. After a pop tart each we barely had to pedal for the rest of the trip as we rolled into Albuquerque, broken from the day’s events but not beaten.
The real kicker for the day was right before we went to bed I loaded the GoPro footage onto my laptop, only to find it had ran out of battery as we went to enter the first turn of our amazing downhill road track. Such was our luck that day.
Day of Denny's
After a few big days we decided to take it easy and cruise only 40 miles (70km).
It was a day we needed and in turn a sleep in, which an older Hispanic lady interrupted by saying “house keeping” over and over. We tried to yell out saying we don’t need it and to please go away but it was 11am and check out time, so we got given an extra 10 minutes to try and pack everything up and get out.
After a rushed start to the morning we headed across the road to Denny’s for a quick bite, both getting the Breakfast 4 dollar value slammer meal. Which is quite amazing considering it’s only four bucks. You get two eggs, two bits of bacon and two pancakes, we always seem to have a few cups of coffee to wash it down with as well, we sit there talking about pretty much nothing until one of us raises enough courage to mention the time and how we should be riding by now.
It wasn’t until 1pm that we made it out of Gallup and onto the i40, the interstate barely had a shoulder and the road was filled with bumps and cracks. Trucks were coming within a foot of us and the wind gusts were unpredictable and blowing us towards the cars and trucks as they sped by.
After only 13 miles (20km) into the ride we headed into a truck stop for some more Denny’s, both again having the $4 dollar value slam and plenty of Coffee, Hot Chocolate and pointless conversation.
We hit the road once more this time making great time on a lot smoother part of the interstate we only had one bump the whole way into Grants. I didn’t see it but I did feel the big bump as we ran over a Rattlesnake. Pokes wasn’t sure if it was still alive or not but I will never forget his freak out as he yelled “oh my God” over and over and almost ran us off the road and into the guardrail.
What we thought was going to be an easy day ended up with us arriving at Grants just before the sunset, freezing cold and with us both still worried about his near death experience from the Rattlesnake. We had made it ! For a change we decided to celebrate with some more Denny’s before bed.
Facing another 140km, we were off to a troubling start, arriving late to our continental breakfast. We missed the usual delicious waffles and cereal, having to settle for some jam toast.
The day started off well, making good time under the beating hot sun while listening to our newly purchased boom box that was blasting out Blink 182. We found a nice spot for lunch under a bridge to give us a break from the heat off the sun.
We spent almost an hour sitting and talking about absolute rubbish mainly because we really didn’t want to get back on the bike and ride the last 60km ahead. The longer we sat there, the more the sun disappeared and the clouds set in.
We rode a couple of kilometers with our joints aching from the cold weather and the long pointless break we just had. We pulled over and put on as much clothes as we could.
The next 90 minutes was a pure nightmare. The boom box died, along with our spirits, the wind picked up and the only noise we could hear was the whistling of the cold wind.
We had our final break about 10km’s out from Gallup, this time it was only 10 minutes off the saddle and barely a word was spoken as we huddled next to a big tree trying to stay out of the wind.
As we took off Pokes said “what a day, at least we know it can’t get any worse.”
Then as if Mother Nature was waiting for the perfect time to really kick us in the guts. It started to snow, the wind picked up and it got even colder.
We battled on, until a nice American Indian man pulled over and asked if we needed a lift. As we pulled up to the Ute I saw the exit 233 and realised that was the one to our motel. We had made it through hell and only minutes away from a nice warm motel room, oh so we thought.
So I said “it’s ok mate this is our exit anyway,” he nodded his head and drove off. Pokes laughed and suggested we should of got a lift off the highway and up the road anyway just because we was so wrecked.
We took off up the exit ramp and thought it was a little weird there was actually no where to go but back onto the highway. It hit me straight away, I had gotten the exit wrong and I was just hoping that the real exit wasn’t to far away.
Pokes realised a few seconds after me, he slowly turned around and gave me one of the best sprays I’ve even been given and I’ve coped some good ones, once being sent to the bench during a training session and made to count my team mates stats as they did drills.
So after I wiped the well-deserved spit off my face before it froze. We headed down the ramp and had to pass six more exits with Pokes making an angry grunting sound as we passed each one, before we could finally take the 239 that was the actual exit.
Together we had made it through sun, wind, rain, snow and a big blunder on my behalf but the friendship still remained as we sat back at Denny’s sipping on hot chocolate and laughing about the that had day passed.
The start of the snow storm
We woke up fresh and fired up for a big day on the bike. Aiming for a 140km day we were off to a flying start, leaving flagstaff and arriving 60km’s down the i40 at Winslow only 3 hours later.
From Winslow it was a bit slower going and we decided for one last stop in about 15 miles out from Holbrook.
We pulled in at a service station and I headed straight into the toilet, when I came out Pokes was going through all the bags quite casually searching for his wallet.
After Pokes looked around for 30 minutes through every bag, checking his pockets at least five times, he finally asked me if I had his wallet and was just playing a trick on him.
I couldn’t resist, so I said, “cold, oh wait freezing.” So he stood up and gave me his full attention. I could tell it wasn’t going to end well because once he thought I had his wallet, his frown had turned completely upside down and he was very keen to play my little game.
The next few minutes past as I had him walking around the service station, as I yelled different temperatures. From freezing cold to boiling, he cottoned on pretty quickly and said, “just give me the dam wallet.”
I simply replied with “I don’t have it.”
This was not the right answer as far as big Poke was concerned, he was seeing red and wanted blood to spill. I was scared, he was steaming towards me and yelled “I’m going to belt you in the face.”
This did puzzle me however, I wasn’t sure if he was going to get out his belt from the saddle bags and strike me in the face with his belt or just hit me in the face with his fists. Either way I wasn’t going to let him come close enough to hit me.
I turned to run and bumped straight into a homeless man named Stuart and thank god for his calming influence. He stopped Pokes and asked him to carm down.
To Poke’s credit he did, he didn’t swear or yell, the disappointed was written all over his face, he couldn’t believe he had given me such entertainment at his own expense.
Pokes got over it pretty quickly and realised he would of done the same thing to me, if he was in my position.
We asked Stuart the homeless man if he was ok, he said he was a little bit hungry but fine otherwise. So we picked him up a foot long sub and bottle of water. He laughed and said if he wanted water he would of gone to the tap.
Pokes was a bit set back but I said I’ll have the water if you don’t want it Stuey but he decided to keep it.
Before we headed on with the last 25km. We were complaining to our new friend Stuey about how physically drained we were. He offered us an energy powder called Ninja, reluctantly we took a sashay of ninja from our new homeless friend, he claimed it gives you super human strength.
We found that a little hard to believe but we were excited at the prospect of being able to lift a car or beat big local Native American Indian in an arm wrestle.
Unfortunately all it did for me was give me the sweats, I was soaking wet and could barely focus on anything. Luckily Pokes took to the Ninja and was driving and riding like a man possessed.
At one stage a truck was entering the highway and he yelled “let’s burn him,” he honesty thought we could ride faster then a truck could drive. Stuey wasn’t right about the super human strength but it sure did make Pokes think he had it.
We somehow arrived safely at Holbrook, Pokes got off the bike and paced around the motel, while I sat in the gutter trying to work how I could slow down my heart and stop the sweating that was getting the best of me.
Finally a cold shower, some fresh clothes and a few painkillers helped me get over the Ninja energy powder that had me seriously questioning if I would survive the last 15km’s of the day.
Tail winds and sore butts
After convincing a sore and sick Pokiemon to take advantage of the tailwinds, we set out and made some amazing time.
With a Banana for breakfast and 2 hours on the road we had almost riden 60km’s before it was 8am. We had finally become that well oiled machine we’ve been speaking about for the past week.
Pokes was dodging glass, pot holes, tumble weeds and big old tyres that were taking up our shoulder of the road, while I sat back and peddled my little heart out. The tail wind virtually sailed us across the last leg of the Californian desert and into the great state of Arizona.
Once we made it over the Colorado river it was time for lunch and subsequently a long break at Mighty Moe’s Pizza and Subs, where Pokes went to town again, eating himself into a carb coma and forcing a 20 minute nap upon us.
It was a well-deserved break and all those carbohydrates came in handy as we climbed hill after hill, turning our well-oiled machine into two struggling want to be cyclists sharing a bike.
It had been a long day but we got through it and had and even bigger day to follow.
Another early rise, except I was not feeling it and by it, I literally didn’t want to get out of bed but after we both snoozed our alarms I knew the 130km wasn’t going to ride itself.
So I yelled at Pokes to get up and make me get out of bed because I didn’t have the will to do it myself.
Our legs were aching, our voices were horse, our bums were so tender we couldn’t even give each other the manly motivational butt tap, that we have become accustom to before we take off each day.
With motivation lacking, we suddenly pepped up as the tail wind became the butt tap we needed. We flew across route 66 only stopping to pop in on a few youths at a juvenile dentition centre. We wanted to hear their stories and ask if they were doing okay. Unfortunately we were sent packing because it wasn’t visiting hours.
We continued to burn up route 66 and made it to Flagstaff just before sunset. After a full days riding we checked into a motel, barely spoke a word to each other and hit the hay, waking up 13 hours later.
Wild animals and flat tyres
I was awoken by screeching and animal noises, my first thought was I’m going to be involved in some sick mans games like you see off horror movies.
Fortunately the high-pitched screeching was Pokes and the animal noise was an angry raccoon we think. I immediately played dead and whispered to Pokes to do something. He replied with ‘why don’t you.’
I explained how he had grown up with animals and would be better equipped for the task, I did reassured him I’m here for back up but he probably wouldn’t need it.
So with that Wild Animal Tamer Pokes stepped up and slinging his hoodie around as if was a sword, he successfully directed the wild beast straight out the broken window that it had came.
The time was 5am and we both were wide awake and rattled from the animal invasion. The concrete floor suddenly wasn't so appealing, it was a forced early start but we got to hit the road before the desert sun had risen.
We were flying out of Amboy, still frightened by the nights experiences and I jinxed us like nothing else. I made an arrogant statement not even a week into our journey and said “I don’t think we will get one flat tyre the whole trip.”
Within minutes of me saying that, out went the front tyre. We have them filled with a slime product that can self repair the tyre so all you do is lift the wheel up and spin for 30 seconds or so. We tried for close to thirty minutes but it just wouldn’t work. So for the next thirty Pokes put in a brand new tube while I sat down in the shade and ate a muesli bar.
After the team building experience of our first flat tyre and repair job, we were back on the road and making great time. The scenery was pretty similar to all of the days so far, some mountains and dead yellow grass but one thing that stood out was the lack of Cars on route 66. In the whole 75km to the interstate-40 we would of only seen around 30 cars.
Was an amazing experience to be able to see the horizon in front or behind you and to know it’s only the two of you out there on a beautiful purple tandem bike.
Once we hit the interstate it was the opposite spectrum, huge trucks shooting past us going 120km per hour. The road was cracked like the WACA pitch on day 5 of a test match, not to mention the gravel all over the shoulder making every pedal feel like your on a spin bike in the gym rather then a road bike, on the road.
Battling along side the interstate for almost 30km, our hearts sank as the front tyre blew again. I sarcastically blamed pokes saying, “you didn’t put the new tube in properly and he is no longer the repair man.”
I honestly thought he was going to king hit me, so I quickly told him I’m just kidding and he is most definitely still in charge of the repairs.
We started to walk the last 10km or so with our hands out trying to hitch a lift and within minutes a nice old gentleman named Jerry pulled over, we loaded everything up in his pick up truck and he dropped us into Needles where we could get a new tube and crash out at a cheap motel.
Left the motel room around 5.45am and straight to 7 eleven to load up on muffins and bananas before we faced a hot dry desert with no breaks until we reached Amboy around a 100kms away.
We saw a homeless man going through the bin so we bought him a coffee and muffin then asked if he was ok. He smiled and said ‘of course.’
We hadn’t had a challenge like this since we began the trip, so we drank two litres of water each before we took off which was smart considering we were traveling through the desert, expect early on in the ride our only challenge was fighting our bladders to not stop for another pee break.
After a fairly easy ride we hit a hill and decided we wouldn’t stop until we got up it. The only problem was once you got close enough to see over the peak you realised there was another peak 400m further up. It ended up being 5 miles long and almost killed us.
The reward was definitely worth it, around 10 miles of a steady slope, where we rarely peddled and sung American Pie at the top of our lungs.
In extremely high spirits, we started to salute the people of America, as we rode past them and got some interesting results. Some stopping asking if we are ok, some waves, some rude finger responses but our favourite response is a return salute which to date has only happened three times.
After saluting every car that passed us, we could finally see the finish line at Roys Café. It was very deceptive though, a small head wind and slight incline had us struggling and the songs and salutes dried up like the desert we were travelling through. We finally got there after about 30 minutes of fighting our way and slowing seeing the Café get bigger and bigger.
Once we arrived we shared a big bag of BBQ chips and both fell asleep in the diner, the old man running the place was nice and was probably just happy someone was stopping in there, so he didn’t wake us up.
After an hour nap, we watched Larry Bird’s greatest moments which was truly amazing, he was quite the player and the heart and soul of the Celtics during the 80's and early 90's. We ate our dinner which was chicken cup noodles because the Café was actually just a snack bar. After dinner the snack bar was shutting shop so we headed to a local abandoned house for bed.
It was dirty, cold, had rat poo and no electricity but it was a roof over our head and good enough for two cheap Aussies trying to get across America.